What happens to a marriage when a middle-aged man decides he’s unhappy with his life and the current players? It’s commonly referred to as “midlife crisis” and it puts more marriages in the dumpster than perhaps any other single cause.

Let’s look at what happens when he begins to realize he’s not 25 and not going to live forever. If he isn’t happy with his life, he realizes that now is the time to make the appropriate changes. Sometimes a man leaves his wife and family and discovers that they are the very people he needs in order to be happy. His regret begins when he finds his wife has created a new life for herself that no longer has a place in it for him. Other men leave with no regrets.

If you’re contemplating major changes in your life… divorce… career shift… take the time to make sure that what you’re seeking is what you truly want and not just a temporary craving. Once a marriage is ended with bridges burned, or a career is dumped, you probably won’t get a chance to return to what you had, no matter how badly you may want to.

A male member of The Midlife Club forum summed up his entry into midlife crisis like this:

“Gosh, I turned 50, and it hit me all at once. So many things added up just like the article says: the thinning hair, the weight gain for the first time ever, occassional impotence, a feeling of being tired/exhausted more easily, beautiful women all around me but my wife declining (read that going to seed), realizing I will never have one of those beautiful women unless I make a switch, a growing sense of spirituality such that my wife’s Jewishness and my Christianity are now after 27 years a problem. What to do? Have an affair? Leave the marriage and kids? What about my obligations to them? Am I ready to say good bye forever to certain parts of me which will never be fulfilled? Bummer.”

Like many men, this man is getting set to make a decision – a major decision – that will change his life forever. Even if he changes nothing, he will have changed something. How many of you are going through the same thing right now?

It’s realizing that you won’t live forever. It’s looking into the mirror and actually “seeing” yourself as you are at age 45 or 50 or 55, not as you think you are at age 25. It’s realizing that if you don’t do it now, you probably won’t be able to do it at all.

Another man sums up his changing world this way:

“I believe that the term ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ was coined by a female. And for some reason, only men have ‘Mid-Life Crises’. Women in midlife talk of experiencing an awakening or rebirth. A time of reflection; a time of realizing that some of the things they thought were important in their youth actually were not. Why is it that when men experience these same reevaluations women say ‘He’s having a Mid-Life Crisis.’? I think women refer to this time in a man’s life as a crisis because men in midlife tend to place less importance on doing things ‘the way they should’ or ‘they way they used to’.”

This shift in a man’s life can cause instability in his mate’s view of their relationship. She interprets this as a ‘Crisis’. I’m in midlife, I am currently reevaluating my past, present and future. I am changing some aspects of my self drastically based on this reevaluation. I am definitely not having a crisis. I am excited. I am growing.”

How does his midlife crisis affect his wife? Here are three women struggling to understand the changes happening in their lives:

The first wife’s story:

“I am so numb to most things in life and I see absolutely NO light at the end of the tunnel. My husband has been in a mid-life crisis/depression for more that five years now. If we make it until June, we will celebrate (celebrate?!) our 25th anniversary. We had many happy years and were so very close. This is a very, very painful time of my life. I truly believe that he still loves me, and I am so in love with him. But we are two lonely, hurting people that seem to know where we need to be-we just cannot figure out how to get there. And our time to find each other is running out.

I cannot accept the thought that this is ‘his’ problem and that I need to concentrate on me and strengthen myself for what ever lies ahead. I have made a commitment to myself for the first time in a long time. I know that last year was absolutely the WORST year of my life and I vow that this year will NOT be a repeat. What I intend to do about it is up in the air. The thought of being 43 and being on my own is terribly frightening. But I will survive! The only thing that really keeps me going is my faith in Jesus Christ. Can anyone give me some insight?”

The second wife’s story:

“I’m 14 months definitely, 28 months probably, head-long into my husband’s midlife crisis. Despite reading everything I can on the subject, figuring that if I’m armed with education I can handle it, I CAN’T HANDLE IT. I’ve let the hurt chase me out of my home. He has moments when the pain inside him is so evident to me that I feel like total shit not knowing how to help him.

But he has a ‘friend’ whom he insists is just a friend and try as I might, I cannot get past the rejection, the jealousy, the ‘Why Not Me?’ If I mention divorce, he gets very angry. He’s got enough insight, maybe from the literature I’ve been able to filter through to him to know that to throw away what was a very strong, unique 20 y/o marriage, would be a mistake. I need support right now from anyone willing to befriend a 40 y/o intelligent woman who just wants a hug and has no where to get one.”

The third wife’s story:

“I need help!!! My husband of 26+ years has decided that his new job is more important than his family is. He wants out. He has decided that he is tired of the responsibilities of a family and wants his freedom. The man I have been married to for 26+ years had disappeared and I don’t know this guy. He needs his space, get off his back, etc. I want my life back, I want my husband back, I want my future back. His job (of 23 years) has taken a new turn and has thrown him into a world he had never experienced, and always said he didn’t want to experience, and he likes it – he likes it so much that I am in the way.

He has told me he wants a divorce, then we can work it out, then we can’t, we can, we can’t, you get the picture. WHAT CAN I DO?????? And yes, he turned 45 last year. I don’t want to lose what we have worked so hard to build. Everyone I have turned to for counseling tells me it is over and I might as well get on with my life without him. Damn it, that is not what I want. I have to believe that after 26 years we have a foundation that has to still be there underneath all this confusion.

I have lost 25+ pounds in about three weeks, I have been suicidal, my kids want me to get out, get a divorce. My oldest son lives cross county and is pushing me to move there with him, BUT I WANT MY MARRIAGE!!!! I know there is no magic bullet but is there any hope that if I can hold on it can work out??? What are my odds????? He swears there is no other woman involved but there are so many things that suggest otherwise that he won’t explain (quite giving me the third degree). Am I being a fool? Is there any hope at all? PLEASE GIVE ME SOMETHING TO HOLD ONTO – PLEASE GIVE ME HOPE!!!!”

Men are not just husbands, they are fathers and grandfathers. How does their midlife change affect the rest of the family?

A daughter has this to say:

“My father is going through a midlife crisis and is putting enourmous stress on my siblings and myself. I am thirty y.o., and my father divorced my mother, married a bimbo who is my age and is happily working on his second child, both younger than my own. He dresses like he lives on Melrose Place, drives two Mercedes, has a $600,000 house, a loft in the city, and a ski place in Colorado. Then he has enough gaul to ask me for money because he is ‘financially strapped.’ Midlife is not an excuse for shirking all personal responsibility. Get a life!”

He’s unhappy, what should he do?

This life is not a dress rehearsal. We have one chance, this one, to get it right. Each day we remain in a painful relationship – a relationship that holds no promise of a brighter future – is a day that is lost to us forever. To remain in any relationship out of guilt or because it will bring pain to someone else if we leave, is to wrong ourselves. Making major life changes in haste is courting disaster.

We must weigh the known we have with the unknown we seek. We must know and accept that each action we take will be met with a matching reaction – reactions that will probably cause irreversible consequences for us. We must understand that when we rip apart another’s life, we must do it as gently as possible. We must understand that pain, ours and theirs, is a part of the process of change.

Life is like a book. In order to read the next chapter, we must close the last one.

© Pat Gaudette. All rights reserved.